After my retirement, I determined to make this blog one in which I could write about both professional topics and personal topics, which meant I would share my thoughts about the many things I find of interest. It also meant I planned on writing about my feelings and experiences over the years. It hasn’t been easy, as I’m quite certain some of my thinking is not mainstream and — in some cases — is certainly frowned upon by some sizeable chunk of the population. Nevertheless, I keep plodding along and, in that spirit, I share here something I posted on Facebook recently.
Two things brought me to tears the other day. The first was the ending of the current episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Just knowing what has been accomplished by my fellow human beings; the incredible discoveries and wondrous inventions that have accompanied our ever-growing knowledge of the workings of the universe takes my breath away at times. The other evening was one of those times. They were tears of ineffable joy.
The second was being reminded of the terrible injustice wrought on the Japanese people who were living in the U.S. when Pearl Harbor was attacked. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law, as well as many of my wife’s extended family, were “relocated” in internment camps. Many lost everything they had worked so hard to accomplish, much of it never to be regained. They were not the enemy . . . and they did not deserve the treatment they received, nor did those who stole their property deserve what they gained. These were tears of inconsolable anger and shame.
January 11th, 2016 at 12:51 pm
As a little child I use to admire my Bachan’s origami umbrellas, which are similar to your mother’n laws. I asked her recently where she learned to make these umbrellas and she can’t remember, although I have read online in one article that this was known as “camp art”. It would be great to have more verification on the history of these artifacts and if they were actually made in the camps. I was wondering if your mother’n law can recall where she learned how to make these.
January 11th, 2016 at 12:55 pm
I will ask my wife to ask her mother and sister. Taka is 92 and has little short-term memory, but she seems to remember lyrics to old songs and such. If she can’t recall, perhaps my SIL can. She was there too.
January 11th, 2016 at 3:01 pm
My wife reminded me I also posted about this on my Facebook Timeline. Here’s what I wrote, which I think answers your question. Hope this helps.
“Funny how you learn simple little things at times; simple things that turn out to be far more intricate and complicated than you could ever imagine. I have lived with this miniature umbrella for nearly 20 years. I’m quite fond of it, and I know it was made by my mother-in-law, Taka Shitara. It’s a beautifully crafted, intricate piece of art, but that’s all I’ve ever known about it.
“Today, my youngest brought home an assignment from her fourth grade class, which requires her to write two paragraphs of four or five sentences each describing something unique to her or her family. We struggled for about 15 minutes before this umbrella caught my eye and I suggested it to her.
“She liked the idea, so we had to look for more information, as “this is a miniature umbrella made by my grandma” just didn’t seem like enough. Here’s what I discovered:
“The traditional Japanese umbrella is called a Wagasa. During World War II, when Japanese in the U.S. were sent to internment camps, many found solace in art, including origami, of which these umbrellas are a relative. There was no new paper available, so they were made out of empty cigarette packs, thread, toothpicks for the rings, and a piece of hashi (chopstick) for the handle.
“My mother-in-law was sent to the Granada Relocation Camp, a mile outside of Granada, Colorado. It was informally known as Amache due to a mail mixup between it and the town of Granada. I don’t know if Taka made this at the camp and brought it home with her when they were finally released, or if she made it later using the skill she had developed while “relocated”, but I had no idea that was the history behind this little work of art. I just thought the camels were a clever design.”
January 12th, 2016 at 10:47 am
Thank you so much for sharing your story with me.
I did a little more research yesterday and came across a website called Mingei Arts (http://mingeiarts.com/archive/japanese-internment-camp-art-origami-umbrella-wagasa-made-of-cigarette-pack-wrappers/). This website has been referenced a few times on Pinterest and it’s the only website that I have found that provides some history on the artifact. This was their reply:
“Our dear friend wrote a book on the subject of Camp Art. Check out: The Art of Gaman, by Delphine Hirasuna, (ISBN: 13: 9781580086899), pg. 58, which is still published. Unfortunately it is the only citing we have found in English. The book has a lot of folk art and crafts cited and a short piece on Wagasa Cigarette Umbrellas. We sold this pieced which was purchased from a friend who was interned and when she turned 96 wanted the piece shared.”
The umbrella shown in this article was made at the Tule Lake Relocation Center and because my grandparent’s families were relocated to Poston, Arizona I am curious to know how this type of art form was available to all, especially since they had no outside contact with anyone. I have recently seen additional umbrellas online and read in the description that a kit was distributed after the war but have not come across any sources that confirm this.
In 1994, I did a class project on this artifact. I recall asking my bachan how to create an origami umbrella and I actually have the original class paper, instructions, and templates saved in my scrapbook. I never did complete this project, threading the needle through the 50-70 sheets of folded cigarette paper was very time consuming and was very difficult on my fingers. From this experience my appreciation for this art form basically grew and it has become a fascination ever since. The umbrellas remind me of a simpler, fonder time when I spent a lot of afternoons at my grandparent’s house.
Two years ago, I purchased three umbrellas online through eBay or Easy (see image: https://plus.google.com/114139633791369813629/posts/16YVbvajAWQ) The lady who was selling these received them from a close friend who recently passed away. I mentioned to the seller that I had admired these umbrellas for some time and the seller proceeded to tell me that her close friend learned to make the umbrellas in the concentration camps and she was so happy that they were going to a good home. I noticed upon my last visit to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles that they did not have these umbrellas on display and I have reached out to the museum curator. I hope to donate the three umbrellas I have purchased online and keep the four that my Bachan made and recently handed down to me. (see image: https://plus.google.com/114139633791369813629/posts/4eEiPdcrEU9)
Overall, this whole process has allowed me to grow and piece together a little more of my families’ history. I plan to treat these artifacts as heirlooms and pass them down to my children. Again, thank you so much for sharing and posting.
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January 12th, 2016 at 10:51 am
You’re welcome, Jennifer, and thank you for elaborating on the post with your wonderful comments.